Religion Needs Dysfunctional Societies

So, I crawled out from under my comfy rock the other day and found out about a study that was published last year that I thought I'd share with you in case you missed it too. Gregory S. Paul published a study back in 2005 called Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look. I remember it from awhile ago and thought it was very interesting. Basically he looked at the health of prosperous societies and then looked at their absolute belief in god. If I recall, he found that the more religious a country was, the less societally healthy it was. He looked at things like crime, abortion, sexual dysfunctions, and other factors.

It was an interesting study but it was criticized in the scientific community. Well, he did another study in 2009 and this time was more rigorous. The follow up study is called The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions. Now I haven't read the whole thing, but Tom Rees of Epiphenom has. He was attracted to the charts, as I was, which I've added below.

What societal ills bring a country down from being successful and healthy? Paul used indicators like murder, suicide rates, size of prison populations, mortality, alcohol consumption, poverty, unemployment, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions and deaths. I think he had some positive indicators like marriages too.

Results? Unhealthy societies are more religious. Religion needs a dysfunctional society to flourish, which explains why a first world country like the U.S. can still be so religious, as you can see in all the charts. (click for larger versions)

Tom Rees also did a paper called Is Personal Insecurity a Cause of Cross-National Differences in the Intensity of Religious Belief? In it Rees found that the more insecure a society and its people are, the more religious that society is. So these two studies support each other. You can see his review of his own study at his blog, Epiphenom. It's got all his nice graphs there, easy to read.

Here is a video of Gregory Paul talking about his work. It's hard to hear him clearly, but I watched some of it and he said the way to help the U.S. become more secular was to get universal healthcare. The talk was in 2008, by the way, so maybe we'll see if our recent pathetic bill will make a difference in the religiosity of America.

So making society more stable and helping people to feel more secure would help to get them out from under the boot heel of religion? Sounds plausible. I'd like to see more work done. How would you test that hypothesis? If you could choose 2 changes made to your country to make it more stable and less religious, what would you pick?


  1. I think religion both feeds on dysfunctional societies and helps foster/perpetuate dysfunction within societies.

    What sort of people do religious proselytizers seek out? Those who are desperate, needy, unhappy, etc. Those are the sorts of people who are most likely to respond to the message put forth by the proselytizer, and to fall for the "salvation" shtick.

    Religion also fosters and perpetuates dysfunction in societies where it has a stronghold. Create scapegoats, sow dissension, push "values" that ultimately result in more harm than good ("abstinence only" sex-ed), keep everyone on the attack while simultaneously claiming victimhood.

    Having universal healthcare might do some good but who are the biggest detractors? The Radical Religious Right. And, of course, the health care reform bill that's been put up (which really isn't universal health care but that's another story) allows people to opt-out for "religious reasons", like so many other laws. So I don't imagine it would do much to help pull us out of our mess. We'd be better off eradicating all of the legal escape-clauses that allow people special rights just for invoking their "religious beliefs". At least then there would be a more level playing field and religious people would understand they weren't above the law any more. We'd have a place to start...

  2. Well said, Buffy. I agree with you completely!

  3. The whole premise of religion is that people (humans) need "god" to either: A. Deliver them from the "evils" of this world and to the promised land (judaism) or B. Deliver them to heaven (christianity and islam). You can only attain this by adhering to a set of confusing, conflicting criteria that nobody actually agrees upon. If you are in a system of beliefs like this, you can't be OK just as you are. You have to have someone else, rabbi, priest, imam, to guide you. If people were just fine at birth, didn't need deliverance or salvation, and didn't need someone else to tell them how to live; religion would be pointless. If people practiced critical thinking and leaders practiced statesmanship, no one would even put up with religion at all.

  4. I agree. I would add that people think they need deliverance and salvation because they are indoctrinated and brainwashed by power hungry, controlling, greedy church leaders (insert any denomination here). They are in that system of beliefs because they are born into it. They are never taught to think critically, their lives don't seem in their control, and that's why they stay in the "relative" comfort that they get from the church they were born into.
    Of course, both of us have oversimplified it tremendously. People are very complex and religion is a complex problem.

  5. In reality, no single religion could guarantee us a place in Heaven. In the end, what matters is how we a treat other people.'.`

  6. Well, Samuel, I agree with the second part. There is no heaven. There is no hell. We just have to be good for goodness' sake!

  7. it does not matter what religion you have, just do good things on this world`.;

  8. A seemingly innocent response, but one that really doesn't understand the situation at all.

    Religion tries to tell you what good is. Murdering people because they aren't virgins, honor killings, and so forth (examples are endless). These people think they are doing good, they have good intentions from their view, but anyone sane and not in the cult knows they aren't doing good.

    So it does indeed, matter a great deal, because it distorts your perception on what is good and what isn't. I despise responses such as yours, because they are meaningless with rather sour intentions. Your response was to the effect of "what you said doesn't matter, this is all that matters", and no, I do not agree.

  9. I agree with GMN, this seemingly benign statement is insidious.

    The whole point is, if we could learn to think for ourselves and create for ourselves a functioning, healthier society, we'd have no need of gods and superstitions.

    So you're wrong for the reasons GMN stated. Religion is harmful. All of it. Religion forces you to blindly follow and NOT think. That is the antithesis of what we need in society.

    Doing good does NOT require religion of any kind. Over a Billion people on the planet are good without gods.